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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 12:00 GMT
Analysis: What next for al-Qaeda?
Anti-American rally in Pakistan
Osama Bin Laden has supporters in many countries
By BBC foreign affairs correspondent Mike Williams

The word Qaeda must now be known to almost everyone on the globe within reach of a radio, a television or a newspaper.

Al-Qaeda means "the base", and since the organisation was formed that base has been Afghanistan.

But its fighters find their refuge shrinking now, as the shattered country grows ever more inhospitable.

Those who survive will have to seek a new base.

Ruins of the World Trade Center
The attacks on New York were probably planned outside Afghanistan

Experts like Professor Adrian Guelke of Queen's University in Belfast and author of a book called "The Age of Terrorism and the International Political System", believes organisations like al-Qaeda can go anywhere where there isn't a central government accountable to the outside world.

"There are plenty of places in the world where central authority, where central government doesn't exercise control," he said.

"There are places where there are ongoing conflicts, like Kashmir, like Chechnya. Any number of possibilities provide room for an organisation like al-Qaeda."

Other analysts agree. But Tim Ripley, Director of the Terrorism Project at the Centre for Defence and International Security Studies at Lancaster University, thinks al-Qaeda's next hide-out could be somewhere in Africa.


You have al-Qaeda branches in perhaps a dozen countries. Even if the Afghan centre is destroyed, al-Qaeda as an organisation will still be there

Professor Fred Halliday

"The most likely target of their attention is Somalia - a failed state on the coast of Africa. It has an Islamic population; it is anarchic, chaotic," he said. "They could hide there pretty well."

Clearly, there are troubled places - failed states which pay little attention to the world beyond their borders.

It is conceivable that al-Qaeda might regroup in such a place. But, as Tim Ripley points out, it can also survive in other ways.

"People talk about the al-Qaeda network as an organisation led by Bin Laden."

Machine guns at market stall in Somalia
Somalia, awash with weapons, is considered a "failed state"

"It is more a sort of loose grouping of people who keep in touch with their ideas by all means of modern communication - websites, computer links, satellites, internet, mobile phones.

"And this is a way to maintain their unity of purpose."

Tim Ripley believes that al-Qaeda is more an idea than an organisation with a tight command and control structure.

"In a conventional sense, you can't beat them. You have to start by attacking their ideology, start by attacking their motivation.

"Only by defeating their ideas will people defeat them as a movement."

Worldwide connections

The idea for the 11 September attacks on the United States may have been conceived in Afghanistan - but there is growing evidence to show it was planned and funded from outside.

Finance could have come from Bin Laden's businesses in the Middle East and Africa, logistics from America, Spain and Germany, perhaps Britain too.

Fred Halliday, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, and author of a book called "Two Hours Which Shook the World", says it is all but impossible to destroy al-Qaeda.

Painting of Osama Bin Laden displayed in Islamabad
Al-Qaeda is held together by ideology rather then by a tight control structure

"You have al-Qaeda branches in perhaps a dozen or two dozen, even three dozen countries, not just in Afghanistan but overtly or covertly in Somalia, Yemen, the Philippines, Indonesia, Western Europe, perhaps one or two Latin American countries and in North America. "

"They can certainly be weakened, but you may never be sure they have gone completely," he said.

"Even if the Afghan centre is destroyed, al-Qaeda as an organisation will still be there. There is nothing to stop others coming along later and trying to reconstitute al-Qaeda 2 or al-Qaeda Provisional or al-Qaeda Real or al-Qaeda Authentic, or whatever it will call itself."

See also:

26 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden's fortress caves
23 Nov 01 | South Asia
Arrests disrupt al-Qaeda
23 Nov 01 | South Asia
Hi-tech and hearsay in Bin Laden hunt
23 Nov 01 | Africa
US shuts down Somalia internet
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Al-Qaeda's origins and links
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